illustration of a broken heart

When twin siblings or married couples die in a short space of time, it’s easy to jump to sentimental conclusions and blame the second death on a “broken heart”. However, as many of our team members at Cardiac Monitoring Service have suspected, there may actually be some truth to these claims.

According to Dr. Matthew Lorber, a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York;

“Broken heart syndrome — which is, in fact, a real thing — is when someone finds out some shocking news, typically terrible news, and there’s a massive release of stress hormones that are released into the bloodstream, and the heart is then bombarded with these hormones.”

The symptoms of the unusual syndrome mimic that of a heart attack, and include shortness of breath, intense chest pain, and extreme fluctuations in blood pressure. Simply put, heavy doses of stress hormones flood into the heart and change its rhythm, which causes intense pain and leaves the victim gasping for breath.

Women make up 90% of the so-called “broken heart syndrome” cases. The syndrome is also most common in people with a history of neurological problems and/or mental health problems.

Though broken heart syndrome is not completely understood, the stress-induced theory has garnered support from several doctors, including those specializing in mental health.

“In general, we know that there’s a tie between cardiac health and mental health,” Lorber continued to explain. He also stated that people who have untreated depression and anxiety disorders are at a higher risk for having heart attacks and chronic disease, all of which can be traced back to a high amount of stress hormones in the bloodstream.

The condition was first described and studied in 1990 by Japanese researchers, who referred to it as Takotsubo syndrome. Broken heart syndrome is also often called “stress-induced cardiomyopathy,” with cardiomyopathy denoting a weakening of the vital heart muscle.

Dr. Kevin R. Campbell, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at University of North Carolina said that after checking high-tech cardiac monitoring equipment for clues, these patients usually “don’t have any blockages in the heart or arteries,” though the heart itself is dilated and very weak.

Extreme stress can also trigger a series of physiological events that end with stroke. “We know that stress can induce cardiac arrhythmias, or irregular rhythms in the heart, that can cause clots to be formed and thus produce large strokes,” Dr. Campbell stated.  

Although these patients commonly experience heart attack symptoms and cardiologists commonly treat them with similar medication, the recovery is quite opposite to that of a heart attack.  In fact, patients usually recover almost spontaneously over the course of several days or weeks, and commonly report no serious long-term consequences.

Although victims of “broken heart syndrome” often recover quickly and with no lasting damage, the traumatic memories remain, and an even rarer few actually can die of a broken heart.

Cardiac Monitoring Service has been helping physicians obtain cardiac monitoring equipment for over 30 years. Please contact us for more information regarding our services and details about our cardiac event monitors.

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